Sunday, January 26, 2014

Reader Response: The Miseducation of Cameron Post Pt. 1

A free-form reader response to The Miseducation of Cameron Post for my Teen Materials class. This is the LGBTQ title I picked from a list, as opposed to the one everyone in the class had to read.

** Spoilers everywhere! ** 

Chapters One and Two and Three

This time, I read the first two chapters in bed, not taking notes as I went. Danforth's prose is longer, more expansive, more detailed, etc. than the other Young Adult novels I've read recently. The Miseducation of Cameron Post (which I'll call Miseducation from now on) is almost 500 pages long and has adult novel font size, line spacing, and margins. To avoid taking forever, I have decided to be more lax in my notes for this book (unless I feel the need to do otherwise!).

What struck me more than anything else in these two chapters is the sensuality of Emily Danforth's writing. I'm not using "sensuality" as a euphemism for sexual content. I mean that her descriptions of taste, touch, and sound are very evocative. I can't judge visual descriptions because of my mental handicap in that area, but I had more-than-abstract experiences of these other senses while I read. A scene that covers a couple of those senses:
"Grandma put on a Murder, She Wrote rerun after lunch, but she always dozed during those, and Irene and I had seen it, so we quietly left her asleep in the recliner. She made tiny whistling noises as she breathed, like the last seconds of a Screaming Jenny firecracker.
Outside we climbed the cottonwood tree next to the garage and then swung over to its roof, something my parents had told me over and over not to do. The surface was black tar and it was sticky and melted; our flip-flops sank in as we stepped. At one point Irene couldn't pull her foot out and she fell forward, the melted roof burning her hands."
As far as pacing goes, I'm almost annoyed by the slowness and the back-and-forth timeline. But I'm not. And by the time I reached the end of Chapter Two, I realized that I wanted to experience everything in that first 40 pages before seeing Cameron as orphan.

The most uncomfortable thing has been the shoplifting, but it fit the characters so well and I could almost feel the stolen gum hidden under my own clothing as I read it. Emily Danforth is turning out to be an extraordinarily pleasing writer, as I adjust to her pace. It's hard not to want to be this protagonist having this golden childhood, except for the dying parents part of course.

I liked Cameron's choice of escapism: movies, movies, movies. It's something many people do without recognizing it so explicitly. I also see a rationale being demonstrated here for carrying films in public libraries. In contexts where privacy is less emphasized, it can be oppressive to constantly have to worry about what the person handling checkouts thinks of selections...and how they feel entitled to interact because of those judgments.

Margot, a world-traveling, confident childhood friend of Cameron's mom, came to visit Cameron in particular when Margot was back in the States, months after her parents' funerals. Their dinner together was handled so well. Emily Danforth could have overdone or underdone the implications of Margot's relationship with Cameron's mother easily, but she didn't. It was the perfect amount of understanding for Cameron and for readers:
"She smiled a tight smile at me and said, 'I'm going to level with you here, Cameron, because you seem adult enough to handle it. Grief is not my strong suit, but I did want to see you and tell you that if you need anything from me, you can always ask and I'll do my best.' She seemed like she was done, but then she added, 'I loved your mom since I met her.'
Margot wasn't crying and I couldn't read on her face the potential for it, but I knew that if I looked at her long enough, I could definitely get weepy, and maybe even eventually tell her about me and Irene and what we had done, what I had wanted to do and still did want to do. And I knew, somehow, that she would make me feel better about it. I could just tell that Margot would assure me that what I had done hadn't caused the accident, and that while I wouldn't believe anybody else telling me the exact same thing, I might actually believe her. But I didn't want to believe her right then, so I didn't keep looking at her face but instead drained the rest of my Shirley Temple, which took several swallows; but I finished every last sweet pink-red carbonated drop until the ice clacked against my teeth."
The end of Chapter Three was about Irene's changing social class, which led her to leave Cameron behind. But since Irene was much less affected by kissing Cameron, it's likely this mismatch would have led her away in a more painful way if she had stayed.

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